California Supreme Court removes anti-tax measure from the ballot

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The California Supreme Court removed a sweeping anti-tax measure from the November ballot that the state’s Democrats claimed would have been catastrophic for local government budgets.

The high court found the measure to be a far-reaching revision of the state constitution and “because those changes would substantially alter our basic plan of government, the proposal cannot be enacted by initiative,” California Supreme Court Associate Justice Goodwin Liu wrote in the 74-page opinion.

The ruling handed down Thursday came on a 7-0 vote from the high court.

The changes proposed by the measure “are within the electorate’s prerogative to enact, but because those changes would substantially alter our basic plan of government, the proposal cannot be enacted by initiative,” California Supreme Court Associate Justice Goodwin Liu wrote in the opinion.

California Supreme Court

The initiative, called the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act, would have amended the California constitutional rules governing how the state and local governments can impose taxes, fees and other charges.

Backed by the California Business Roundtable and California Business Properties Association, the initiative would have required a two-thirds majority vote from lawmakers and approval from a majority of voters for any increase in state or local taxes. It also would have overturned any tax measure approved since Jan. 1, 2020, that didn’t meet those requirements.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments in May in the case brought by the state’s Democratic leaders to block the measure.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s support, Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, in September filed an emergency petition with the state Supreme Court seeking to remove the initiative from the ballot.

More than a dozen amicus briefs supporting efforts to block the measure were filed by entities, including state employee unions, three former directors of the California Department of Finance, and the League of California Cities.

Defeating the measure was a top priority for the League of California Cities as nearly 250 cities passed resolutions opposing the measure, according to a release.

“It’s great news for cities and their residents that this dangerous initiative will not move forward this year, and local officials can now keep their focus on delivering local services,” Carolyn Coleman, executive director and chief executive officer of the League of California Cities said in a statement.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria called the ruling a victory for good governance and the well-being of our communities.

“We applaud the California Supreme Court for rejecting this ill-conceived effort by special interests to dilute the power of voters and erode the authority vested in local governments by the California constitution,” said Gloria, speaking as chair of the 13-member Big City Mayors coalition.

“By striking down this measure, the court has safeguarded the capacity of cities to deliver the essential public services our residents expect — police and fire emergency services, road maintenance, trash pickup, clean drinking water, parks and libraries,” he said.

The measure’s supporters had collected more than a million signatures and it was set to appear on the ballot, according to Republican leaders, who expressed outrage at the ruling.

Sen. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber called the ruling a “slap in the face to California citizens,” saying the justices not only interfered with the people’s right to be heard, but did so “at the request of the very people who want to raise our taxes time and time again.”

“The court has failed in its duty to the people of California and our democratic system and instead simply caved to pressure from the governor and legislative Democrats,” Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones, R-San Diego, said in a statement.

In the opinion, Liu acknowledged a pre-election review of a ballot measure is unusual.

But he wrote that waiting to consider the constitutionality of the initiative until after voters weighed in would be more challenging than in a typical case, because it included a rollback provision that could have invalidated existing taxes.

It would have required “the state and localities to start preparing to administer special elections if they wished to avoid nullification of taxes or charges,” Liu wrote.

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